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Snowboarding growth rate slowing, industry observers say
Wednesday, 07 April 2004





Snowboarders are expected to account for more than 31 percent of total skier visits this season, an all-time high. But industry observers see a slowing in the snowboarding growth rate.

Snowboarding grew 21 percent from 1999-2000 season to the 2000-01 season, but it dropped to 11.2 percent growth from the 2001-02 season to the 2002-03 season.

This season, the number of visits logged by snowboarders is predicted to have climbed only about 5 percent, said Nolan Rosall, whose Boulder-based RRC Associates compiles annual reports analyzing statistical trends at the nation's resorts.

He said that growth rate, while down, will still push snowboarding to more than 31 percent of all visits to the nation's ski hills this season.

"That is still pretty solid growth. It will be higher than growth in skier visits. But it's certainly not at the rates we saw 10 years ago," said Rosall, who predicts snowboarding visits will peak at 35 percent of all visits logged on American ski slopes.

Through the 1990s, resort operators relied on snowboarders to offset a decade of flat or declining visitation by skiers.

But resort operators aren't worried about the slower snowboarder growth.

"We all knew snowboarding was leveling off, and we've been preparing for it. What is fascinating, though, is skiing and its resiliency," said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association in suburban Lakewood.

While the percentage of skiers has steadily dropped from 80.9 percent of all skier visits during the 1996-97 season to 70.5 percent last season, the numbers remain strong.

For example 1.6 million more skiers took to the slopes in the 2002-03 season than skied in the 2001-02 season.

Retail sales of snowboarding equipment also has slowed. It has grown 4 percent or less for each of the past three years, according to annual surveys by SnowSports Industries America, a trade group.

That compares with 30 percent to 40 percent annual increases in snowboard gear sales in the late 1990s.

Sales of alpine ski equipment, according to the SIA, have climbed in the past two seasons, marking the first increases in several years.

The new wave of skiers is armed with twin tip, telemark, mid-fat and shaped skis. Twin-tip skis allow skiers to ride in terrain parks, the traditional stomping ground of snowboarders.

"You are kind of limited with what you can do on a snowboard," said Mike Benedict, a 22-year-old Keystone local who traded his snowboard for a pair of twin-tip skis several seasons ago. "Everything comes a little more naturally on skis. I've been seeing a lot of people switching over to skis."

Fat skis have opened once-daunting powder fields to less-than-expert skiers.

Mid-fat skis, which are the top-selling design in today's ski market, have made skiing less strenuous, providing older skiers a chance to stay on their skis a few more years. Short skis provide a new form of on-mountain play for skiers.

"Yes, snowboarding is still growing, but we are seeing a shift in focus from just snowboarding to an all-around aggressive lifestyle focus that now includes skiing," said Derek Johnson, who co-founded Aspen's D&E Snowboard Shop in 1993. "I personally switched over to skiing a few years ago but went back to snowboarding. There are more and more kids moving into the twin-tip ski scene and everyone is hanging out together. That old animosity is long gone."

Bill Jensen, chief operating officer at Vail Mountain, has seen snowboarding numbers plateau in the past three seasons.

"We are seeing, in our terrain parks, a very much 50-50 match of skiers and snowboarders," said Jensen, who also oversees operations for all five Vail Resorts-owned ski hills. "It ebbs and flows. But it definitely has plateaued."

Annual surveys by the National Sporting Goods Association have detected a growing number of snowboarders older than 35.

"The baby boomers are just figuring out that it's popular and fun," said Trish Fowler, manager of The Other Side snowboard shop in Beaver Creek, one of the nation's ritziest ski areas. "I don't think some of those younger boys wanted us to be a part of their club, but we're here now."

Larry Weindruch, spokesman for the Chicago-based sporting goods association, said the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, where American snowboarders dominated, ferried snowboarding into the mainstream, which could be triggering its popularity among those 35 and up.

But when the older folks glommed onto in-line skating in the late 1990s, Weindruch said, the nation's fastest growing sport almost immediately lost its appeal with younger kids who fueled its record-setting growth in previous years.

"I don't know if snowboarding will follow that path, but it's sort of the same crowd," Weindruch said. "When everyone's parents started in-line skating, the kids went back to their skateboards. There will be a leveling off for snowboarding; it's just a matter of when. Is it here now? Who knows?"

Originally published Saturday, April 3, 2004
The Associated Press

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